Saturday, December 7, 2013

341: Technomysticism

ENTRY 341: Technomysticism

"No one knows everything. An' anything you don't know, that's magic. Unseen forces. The dark programs. The things I've seen in the subcurrents of the inheritance of a thousand generations of shamanic pharmaceutical knowledge...the telluric currents of Mars and Luna...mine to cajole, conjure, and command."
- Big L'il Zee, Circuit Freak & Psychosorcerer (AF 8)

"Ignorance breeds superstition, as true for a synthmorph on the surface of Luna staring up at the ruined eyesore of Earth today as it was a hundred centuries ago with the sun-baked farmer standing in awe and incomprehension as the river rose to his knees, leaving behind a layer of rich silt on his drowned fields. Too much of the Mesh is awash with bad research, general education too broad and patchy, wikis and online courses filled with pseudoscience, paid advertisements, pet theories without supporting evidence, and a seemingly endless supply of kooks willing to tie it all together, forming networks that feed on passing the same bad information back and forth until it becomes accepted as fact. Long gone are the days when peer review could weed out the papers that were not even wrong, and in the collapse or corruption of academic and professional journals there is nothing to stop anyone from publishing whatever they want. In such an environment all transhumans become skeptics out of self defense."
- Professor Brainbug, guest lecture

The hardest part of answering any question is wading through the crap that pops up in the search results. While the vast majority of transhuman knowledge is available online, much of it for free, most of the hits are garbage - bad information, pet theories, ads, copypasted repeats recombined to look like a new article, porn, and other forms of junk. Even the most secure and vouched-for wiki and database is sure to have some questionable crap sneak in via a well-mannered and convincing bot or a lack of judgment in citing a source. For most transhumans this is just an annoyance - something that they learn to identify and deal with as naturally as breathing - but the ongoing corruption has detrimentally impacted the technical skills of more than one generation. Most transhumans, if pressed, could not give an accurate account of Newtonian physics, and their ideas of quantum mechanics are derived mostly from big-budget XP productions and Meshcomics involving stick figures. In such an atmosphere of readily available knowledge and widespread ignorance has come the spread of technomysticism - not necessarily the belief in paranormal activity, but a flawed understanding of contemporary technology, it's limitations and how it works. This environment breeds pseudoscience, weird beliefs and superstitions, and promulgates many fallacies and misunderstandings.

Technomysticism tends to follow pseudoscientific principles, or applies fallacious theories to explain the working of existing technologies. On Mars and Luna, for example, mistaken beliefs about geomagnetically induced currents abound, with even quite respected and intelligent transhumans choosing to follow popular superstition with additional ground straps and other remedies to keep from getting "fried." In Extropia, variations of the gambler's fallacy are especially prominent, with shares in gatecrashing corps sometimes increasing after a failed expedition on the expectation that the next one "must" be a winner to balance out the probabilities. Programmers in particular swap procedure manuals dealing with "black magic" code - programs that underlie the existing Mesh, but which are so old, patched, and undocumented that no transhuman knows exactly how they work - only that if they fiddle with this value in this screen, they can fix the problem. The spread of exonatural materials and other bioproducts as cure-alls or miracle substances, despite or because of lack of documented testing, is another example of technomysticism in action.

Using Technomysticism

First and foremost, technomysticism is an ass-covering mechanism for players and gamemasters. Not everyone has the time or inclination to become read-up in space exploration, physics, chemistry, anatomy, biology, electrical and mechanical engineering, business theory, philosophy, computer science, and psychology before a game, nor should they be expected to. Eclipse Phase is set in the far future in a science fiction world of high technology - a rather hard sci fi world as these things go, but still fiction. It's a setting you want to live and play in, but you don't need to build every little thing in your head, even if you could. So when you do run up against the wall, don't be afraid to say something silly or admit the character doesn't know the answer. Chalk it up to legitimate character error and ignorance, even if the PC or NPC should know better based on their skills. Anything to keep the game moving, rather than get bogged down into a technical argument over the details of how some hypothetical technology may or may not work. If it really bugs a player character, ask them to research it on their own and if they come up with a satisfactory answer at the next session, give 'em a bit of rez or a no-prize.

Secondly, technomysticism permits players and characters to conceptualize some technology in terms of magical thinking - "Where do AGIs go when they die?," "Organically Grown Augmentations are better for you," "This plasma rifle has the Green seal of approval, I want my violence to be environment-friendly," and so on. This can be played as anything from a source of cheap laughs to a segue into a "shaman," "technomancer" or other type who assumes the mantle of hidden supernatural and technical knowledge to gain influence and extract gifts and credits from the community. Some of these characters mean well, and as particularly knowledgeable about certain "black magic" exploits and the like, but the worst are little more than swindlers, thieves, and back-alley surgeons offering highly questionable augmentations or other services. Such characters tend to be charismatic (or else very poor), but in the right circumstances be influential through their friends and followers. In rare cases, they may even have some genuine paranormal psi ability, but such individuals are touched by the exsurgent virus and much more dangerous than scam artists selling "blessed" firewall programs.

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